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Tongue 'n' Cheek

Carl Morris

Dizzee Rascal
Crammed Discs

Dizzee.jpgThis time you can forget what David Blunkett once warned you about grime artists. On his fourth album, Dizzee Rascal has abandoned not only the razor-edge beats but almost all the danger, violence and one-time rivalries with former peers. By contrast he's now enjoying the wealth and status that goes with being a bona fide 21st-century megastar.

Dizzee had long been too big a personality to sit comfortably inside the DIY mixtape culture of London's streets. But it's hard to pick the specific moment when he cut the last of his links with the grime scene. It was probably sometime between receiving a gig booking from Prince Harry and being invited to appear on Newsnight.

None of these recent exploits was a huge surprise. He's always had an ear for the mainstream and the dance pop singles on this album ('Dance Wiv Me', 'Bonkers' and 'Holiday') all successfully broke the number one spot. But in these achievements, something else is being lost. Lyrically it's a celebration of sorts - and he doesn't spare us any of the lurid details of fame, groupie conquests, speeding and ignoring red lights - sometimes all at the same time. The overall impression is of excess, finding umpteen ways to revel in 'money money money girls girls cash cash'. There's nothing unusual about this kind of bragging. As legions of identikit rappers (and quite a few good ones) have shown, it can still be a showcase for lyrical dexterity.

The tune 'Leisure' is the key to understanding the compromise here: 'It's only entertainment and I do it for the pleasure / Course I do it for the payment / But I do it at my leisure'. He makes it 'look easy' and to be sure, Dizzee is an alchemist who can turn a throwaway boast about expensive jeans into comic poetry. 'Only entertainment' though? He's shown on previous albums that he's capable of much more than that.

There are occasional fleeting suggestions of more. On 'Dirtee Cash' he deals with our own credit excesses, merrily recrafting Stevie V's 'Dirty Cash' house banger into an account of the recession. Is this a genuine admonishment from his new found platform? As a cautionary rap, the ambiguity is as fun as that of Melle Mel's 'White Lines (Don't Do It)', another party tune about addiction. But any questions are silenced by the next track, 'Money Money', where Dizzee gloats that he got his own mortgage before the age of 22. 'See me on the telly with Jeremy Paxman on the news / Gotta raise my profile and my money / Don't get it confused' seems at least like naked honesty - until you realise Dizzee is being disingenuous. Go to YouTube for the real story. He wasn't at his most articulate when discussing Obama's election win, but he still managed to defy Paxman's apparent prejudice with trademark Rascal charm.

Dizzee now tends to shirk from wider subjects, insights or agendas. But there are a few exceptions. 'Chillin' Wiv Da Man Dem' recounts the joys of being at home with mates, bonding over football and PlayStation. Elsewhere here we get maybe a verse or two about the futility of street violence. 'Can't Tek No More' also begins promisingly, sampling Aswad in their early 80s soundsystem era. It's almost a latter day yearning for redemption - and perhaps the closest we get to treasures beyond the earthly. Why then does Dizzee tarnish it by petty moaning about paying his congestion charge?

The restlessness is absent for now; street politics and party politics too, given that he's no longer, as he once claimed, 'a problem for Anthony Blair'. Sure enough, in the wrong hands 'conscious rap' can often be a laboured exercise, but Dizzee has proved so much in the last seven years and he's articulate enough to avoid falling into cliché. The signs all point to his popularity continuing. So if we want him to take on bigger challenges, we may have to wait for album five.

Carl Morris